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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Pay gap widens between primary care doctors, specialists

The pay gap between primary care physicians and specialists is widening because fees for office visits not only aren't keeping pace with fees for procedures, but the volume of visits is also lagging behind the number of procedures, according to an article in this week's Annals of Internal Medicine.

Every five years a committee from the American Medical Association updates the Resource-Based Relative Value Scale, which is designed to reduce physician pay imbalances. The Annals authors says the committee is made up mostly of specialists.

The study has provoked a contentious exchange about the worth of specialists vs. primary care physicians on Kevin, M.D., the blog of Dr. Kevin Pho, a Nashua, NH, primary care physician.

"Instead of trying to lower the income gap by decreasing specialty salaries, why not try to lower the income gap by raising primary care salaries?" one anonymous poster asked. "In many cases being a specialist requires double the amount of residency that being a primary care doc requires. Why shouldn't they be paid better!"

Another anonymous entry suggested how to pay for this:

"Make docs employees of the federal govt. with a flat salary pay grade just like other federal employees. Have malpractice coverage thru the fed. Give them a G15 pay grade for primary care (about 120k per year) and a G20 pay grade for specialists (about 170k per year). That's still a 50k per year difference, which is quite substantial."

That drew the following reply: "Dream on. I would be willing to work about 10 hours a week for this salary."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 04:23 PM
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